MOST public universities enrol students more than the seat capacity in the halls of residence. Students who come from distant places often, therefore, need to spend the first two of their university years in crowded, chaotic situations of guest or common room. They often take to the streets for a seat in residential halls. On October 14, women students of the University of Chittagong held a sit-in, blocking the entrance to the Sheikh Hasina Hall for seat allotment as the hall administration was delaying the process. Although the hall has long been constructed, as aggrieved students say, no seat allotments have been made. Students affiliated to the hall have earlier filed a number of petitions with authority in this regard. The provost of the hall has, however, said that they are unable to complete the work because of shortage of members on the staff while the acting proctor has said that the delay was because the hall was still under construction. Earlier, women students of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibar Rahman Science and Technology University in Gopalganj, too, brought out processions on the same issue. In this context, the university administration must look into the matter and prioritise the task of seat allotment to first-year students.
In addition to seat crisis, there are other issues in residential halls of public universities. The quality of food in hall canteens is reportedly poor. Women students of the Gopalganj University are reported to have recently narrated how they live in tin-shed halls without the minimum basic facilities. More importantly, the authorities there have ignored their safety concerns as petty theft is rampant. What is most worrying about halls is that the seat allotment is largely controlled by the student organisations of the ruling party. Capitalising on the scarcity of seat and the vulnerability of students from distant places in desperate need of a place to stay, Chhatra League leaders compel fresh students to follow their directives; their access to halls is, otherwise, restrained and restricted. On September 4, a Chhatra League leader of the Surya Sen Hall of the University of Dhaka locked four rooms after students living in the rooms had refused to give him ‘protocol’. The students living in ‘common room’ routinely face ragging. Considering that most public university students today come from middle-class or lower middle-class family with no option but to live in the common room of their halls until seats are allotted, they become easy prey.
In this situation, the administration of all universities must prioritise the systematic distribution of seats and take action to regain their authority to control halls of residence. In order to ensure that anti-ragging policies are framed and implemented on campuses, the University Grants Commission should also consider imposing regulations on universities.
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